When I created Extracurriculars two years ago, I set out to explore away-from-the-field matters in sports.
Since that’s just as expansive a category as the games, I realized I was risking becoming too broad and unfocused. And for a while, it did seem that way.
In the last year or so, I’ve devoted much of the space here to women’s sports as I prepared my e-book, “Beyond Title IX,” which was published in June.
While blogs are testaments to the power of a niche, this blog’s niche was meant to be a bit more wide-ranging.
My fresh emphasis on non-playing topics comes via sports books and history, documentaries, reviews, arts and culture.
I won’t be delving much into sports business and sports media, subjects with many excellent blogs and websites devoted to them. Too many, I think.
They also don’t fit into the approach I’m taking, and it is an experimental one, which includes exploring the connection between sports and the imaginative arts, twins of a singular creative impulse.
It sounds like a difficult connection to make, and I’ll likely stumble around a lot along the way. But my best childhood memories and experiences derive from a blending of these two worlds.
I grew up in an Atlanta suburban home within walking distance of a public park and a public library. When I wasn’t playing softball or tennis, or swimming, I was at the library, browsing and checking out books.
These activities sparked the passions for sports and reading and writing that still make me feel like a kid as I settle into middle age. I don’t think of them as separate spheres, despite our contemporary, media-imposed divide.
My thoughts about this also stem from a passage in Michael Novak’s excellent book, “The Joy of Sports,” that has been a massive influence on me:
“I cannot forever split my life into two, half in love with sports, half in love with serious thought. Life seeks unity.”
Novak was on to something that has gotten lost since he first expressed those sentiments in the late 1970s, as big-time sports have become hopelessly corporate, bloated and disposable, relentless spectacles for passive entertainment consumption.
I also was reminded of the connection between sports and the larger, broader culture — and not just pop culture — when I read, right before the London Games began, about the Olympic medals given for art between 1912 and 1952. The Cultural Olympiad that exists today was created because then-IOC dictator Avery Brundage couldn’t tolerate professional artists being rewarded in what was to be a purely amateur endeavor. (h/t for this link from @agirlasmoke)
With our popular sports world now so dominated by commercial imperatives, and with the jaded media landscape wallowing in celebrity, scandal and 24/7 publishing schedules, I want to take a few steps back — as well as a few deep breaths — and get back to why we’re drawn to sports in the first place. And why many of us can’t live without them.
The answers aren’t to be found in the distraction of constant Tweeting (guilty as charged!), sounding off on talk radio or speculating on which pro athlete a Kardashian sister will target next. What a very wise observer calls “sportz” has sadly become the media-contrived default for our sports experiences.
Real sports are far more elemental to authentic human culture than anything you’ll come across in “Booyah” culture, which Novak anticipated when he wrote:
“If sports were entertainment, why should we care?”